Working with Domestic Placement Agencies

If you have ever looked for a job in the private service field, there is a good chance you have dealt with a domestic employment agency. If not, your next job search should include at least one agency to represent you. In the mid 2000‘s we would have advised candidates to work with perhaps two or three agencies exclusively, building a very strong relationship and having those few agents present you with the best possible fit once they know you well enough. These days we recommend a two-fold approach:

Have a close relationship with a few agents, preferably in your local area, and then have a controlled distribution effort with as many other resources and agencies as you can manage. There are more agencies and fewer jobs in the current marketplace, so carefully casting a wide net beyond your close contacts will ensure the best chance of results. Whether you have had good or not-so good luck with an agency before, the following tips and information will be very valuable as you approach your new job hunt.

Another upfront issue is how to determine the experience, reputation, or competence of an agency service. This is a great item for networking among associates in the industry, reading online posts in related groups, and also looking for some basic business data. Many agencies are just individuals who form their business practice as an LLC or some other entity to properly conduct agency searches. You can always find company information in the state level governments to see if companies are registered properly and currently as they describe themselves. That also reveals how long they have been in business. It is also possible to have a general phone call introduction to see if there is a good basic match with the type of jobs an agent might represent. For example, if we get a call from a Nanny in Chicago, we would not want their full application, but would review their resume and refer them to a partner or local business to help with their search. It isn’t a position that our agency would likely encounter and we’ll save the candidate lots of time and effort by steering them to a more appropriate resource. Try to get a sense of the company you choose to work with before sending piles of information. It should be handled sensitively and in close communication with you throughout the process, even if the match doesn’t happen with a job right away.

Before proceeding with agency relationships you should understand the agency’s function and why they are looking almost exclusively for applicants with years of experience. Domestic agencies get paid by clients to find them skilled employees who have been successful in a home and have the references to prove it. Therefore, an agent tries to present candidates who have recent, well-documented experience in their field and impeccable histories. If you are just starting out or are making a “career change” because a domestic job sounds like something you want to try, forget it. You can, however, call on an agency and kindly ask advice for breaking into the field, but don’t expect too much attention. If you want to learn how to get started in the private service industry, or transition from a related field, see our recommended resources in the chapter on “Finding a Private Service Position.” (The best target call for inquiring about entry to the field is one of the schools who also handle placement. They are very informative throughout their sales process and enjoy inquiries.) The only exception is if you have skills relative to the work you are looking for, such as high-end hotel management, bed & breakfast, restaurant Chef work, etc. Some agencies accept “entry-level” applicants for clients who may not need an applicant with direct private service experience. It is more rare, but apply to the agencies who encourage you to do so.

If you are a skilled, experienced candidate, start your agency approach with a few basics in place. First and foremost, you can’t find something if you don’t know what you are looking for. Before you seek an agency to represent you, know for certain what position and what job description you are asking for. If you don’t know already, you probably should not use an agency, and if you do know, but can’t communicate it well, nobody will be able to assist you to search on your behalf. A great rule of thumb we offer our applicants is this: In thirty seconds, can you explain your job title and what your job search is to a friend who knows nothing about the private service industry? Will they understand and be able to relay that information clearly to someone else? If not, you need some work. Again, when you are trying to be perceived as an expert at what you do, you should be able to “teach” about your position on demand. Though you can expect a successful agent to have knowledge about the position, you need to be the one who consistently communicates exactly the role you fit and describe the many details of your expertise.

Next, when you do contact agencies, be prepared in every way! Don’t even call if you don’t have a resume. The previous section is your guideline to be ready for the paperwork requirements of just about any employment situation, so use it. Once you are ready, call the agencies local to where you want to work and also try the agencies that place nationwide. The best advice is to register with every agency in the world if you have the time and patience, because each agency gets different clients, and more clients = more jobs! This will take a lot of your own effort, but if you have fully prepared and checked out the agents as discussed earlier, you should be up to the challenge. Also, agencies work for you for FREE, so it is fine to use them all, and never pay an agency to register for employment. Knowing this, it is important to be respectful of the time and any guidance you do receive along the way. Remember, agencies get paid by the employer when you get hired, so trust me, if they have a job that fits your background, you’ll quickly become “best friends” through the hiring process.

Author’s Note: Don’t make the major mistake of playing favorites with agencies. There is a reason our company was named Domestic Placement Network. It’s because the way we initially built the agency was in cooperation with like-minded placement agencies across the country. Similar to real estate transactions, a group of us have worked together through the years to successfully extend the reach for our clients and source the best possible candidates. That means we are constantly sharing notes and experiences both good and bad about the candidates we represent. If you have a problem or conflict with one agency, it may affect your status with another. The point is, you’ll never know for sure if a random set of agencies work as partners. Make sure you maintain professionalism even in the face of a bad agency experience. Never “badmouth” an agency when you are speaking with another. If it comes up in conversation, you may suggest that you had a less than positive experience at company A or B, but never say anything overly critical. (Even if it is true!) If you have a legitimate, formal complaint about an agency business practice, use the appropriate government and business channels to resolve the issue.

The registration steps for each agency will be different. Some will ask you to fax or email a resume first, then if you are qualified you will fill out the full application. Others will have you do a complete application right away to be considered for representation. Some may not even take your application. Either way, follow the instructions of the person you are in contact with. After submitting the application or resume, allow the agent to get back to you on their time. They may be busy working with placements or more likely do not have a suitable position to talk to you about at the moment. A good rule is to wait 3-5 business days to follow up after you have spoken to or sent something to an agency. Be persistent, but try not to be annoying. If there is a job on an agent’s desk that you are perfect for, they will call you immediately and treat you like a long lost friend! Be patient.

Did I mention patience? Let’s look at the numbers for a moment: A typical agency has several hundred to several thousand applicant files. Some are computerized, but many are in filing cabinets and are searched manually when a job order needs to be filled. For example, here’s what happens when a client calls the agency for a Private Chef:
The client will have specific details about the type of person, cuisine, schedule, living arrangements, salary, etc., that they are looking for. Based on the job details, an agent goes through the files of all available chef candidates for a possible match either by computer search, flipping through applications, or by memory. Out of maybe 100 available applicants, an agent selects just a few to send to a client, maybe four or five. The client reviews the files sent by email or fax and decides whom to interview. And then if a perfect match is found through the interviews only one person gets hired! So if a very busy agency does just two chef placements per month, your chances are about 2 out of 100 or 1 in 50 that you will land a chef position through the agency at any given time. It’s not pretty. Many candidates on file with agencies may only get one or two interviews over a span of years, and many more never get interviewed at all.

Here’s the trick: Try to be in the four or five applicants sent on every job order at every agency. How? Have the best, most complete, most up-to-date application on file and follow up periodically to have a great relationship with the agents representing you. Basically, it all comes back to the preparation and presentation from the “Better Candidate” section. This is assuming, of course, that you are equally qualified with the other applicants. Likewise, the specific requests of an employer might disqualify you right away, but there is nothing you can do about that. Your only mission is to beat out the other candidates on jobs you are a match for. So be the best applicant in the files and have a solid, ongoing relationship with the person representing you. Always be on the lookout for ways you can set yourself apart from the pack and enhance your profile as a top candidate.


Excerpt from the book, Insider's Guide to Household Staffing, 2ed. Private Staffing Secrets They DO Want You to Know. Click for more information...